Review: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

A scene from the Utah Shakespeare Festival 2011 production of A Midsummer Night/s Dream (Photo by Karl Hugh. Copyright Utah Shakespeare Festival.)

Shakespeare had something entirely different in mind when coining the title “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” For me, the words conjure memories of midsummer nights spent with my daughter Lizabeth at the Utah Shakespeare Festival — where everything feels a bit ethereal and dreamlike.

Recently we saw a Utah Shakespeare Festival performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” directed by festival founder Fred C. Adams. “Midsummer” is being performed through Sept 3 in the open-air Tudor-style Adams Shakespearean Theatre, which is named for festival benefactor Grace Adams Tanner and her parents.

At the Adams Shakespearean Theatre, majestic meets moonlight. Evening performances start just before dusk so stars light the night sky overhead as second acts unfold. The setting is especially magical for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

A giant set piece with three layers of lush green leaves provide a backdrop for much of the play, but also serves as a hiding place for fairies and other mischief-makers. It’s lit at times with long streams of blue, green or yellow lights — sometimes all three.

Those who’ve strolled through the real thing know that forests can be lovely and lush, and the Utah Shakespeare Festival set design for “Midsummer” conveys such a feel — as do elaborate fabric florals in shades that mirror the finest gelato flavors.

Many of the performances were quite delightful — especially those of Elijah Alexander (Theseus, a duke and Oberon, a fairy king), Kymberly Mellen (Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons and Titania, a fairy queen) and Ben Charles (Puck, or Robin Goodfellow).

The four fickle lovers whose affections wane or worsen as fairies interfere with mortal couplings are hilarious. They’re played by Matt Mueller (Lysander), AJ Smithey (Demetrius), Betsy Mugavero (Hermia) and Bri Sudia (Helena). Those who’ve experienced unrequited love or unabashed obsession will surely see a bit of themselves in Shakespeare’s work.

I was most charmed by the youngest cast members– who perfectly embody the playfulness of “Midsummer.” Nicholas Denhalter and Britton Jeffery Gardner (Oberon’s Imps) and Brookie Mellen (Changling Child) gave polished performances, as did Kailey Gilbert (Peasblossom), Georgianna Arnell (Cobweb), Ellie Mellen (Moth) and Eliza Allen (Mustardseed).

“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is among the best-loved of Shakespeare’s comedies, yet it has never been one of our favorites. Complex and multi-layered, productions of the play can go wrong in so many ways. Seeing this performance increased our appreciation for everything that can go right.

— Lynn

Note: Scottsdale Community College performs “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (directed by Randy Messersmith) Oct 20, 21, 22, 28 and 29. Auditions (by appointment only) will be held Aug 30 & 31.

Coming up: Review of “Noises Off!” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival

Update: Click here for details about a television broadcast of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on Aug 29.

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